Apocalypse Now. Platoon. The Deer Hunter. Full Metal Jacket. Born on the 4th July. Good Morning Vietnam.
These are depictions of the Vietnam War that most of us are familiar with. A perspective on what is referred to in Vietnam as the American War, which saw North Vietnam supported by China and other communist allies, against South Vietnam supported by the United States and anti-communist countries. America’s occupation lasted from 1961 to 1975 and waged war against the Viet Cong and their allies in the Saigon region.
A need to learn more was one of the reasons I selected to visit Vietnam and the Cu Chi Tunnels outside Ho Chi Minh City. The Viet Cong’s base of operations during this time and consisting of 120+ km of underground tunnels, now preserved as a war memorial.
The tunnels served as communication and supply routes, hospitals, food and weapon caches and living quarters for numerous North Vietnamese fighters and were of great importance to the Viet Cong in their resistance to American forces.
Not easy with air, food and water scarce and the tunnels infested with ants, poisonous centipedes, scorpions, spiders and snakes. I took the opportunity to enter the tunnels – many now modified somewhat to accommodate the ‘larger’ Western tourist – to understand more about what this meant.
My guide pointing out one of the very many hidden trapdoor entrances to the tunnels. WIth entrance being demonstrated.
Once in there was a 5 m crawl to an enlarged exit.
Interesting things I learnt about survival in the tunnels was how all excess soil from digging the tunnels was carried out to the farm land and into the Mekong Delta. That they used bamboo through ant mounds for ventilation. Only cooked food in the early morning when the smoke would join the morning mist and go unnoticed. That shoes were made with a back-to-front sole to give the impression that they were moving in the opposite direction. That tunnels were 60cm high on average. That no one individual knew the entire network, only portions of it.
Many of the entrances were booby trapped with a variation of traps and spikes, often contaminated with the feces of the wounded to ensure infection on impact.
A depiction of live for the Viet Cong.
There were many women involved both fighting and offering support to the men.
What is called a ‘dead’ American tank.
The shoes with wider heel than toe, to look like the wearer was walking in a the opposite direction.
The area where weapons were manufactured. Often using shells and ammo found from American soliders.
One of the poisonous centipedes which caused havoc in the tunnels.
There are conference rooms where campaigns such as the Tet Offensive of 1968 was planned and can enjoy a simple meal such as the Viet Cong would have eaten. I bought a Viet Cong scarf and souvenir pin and took to the shooting range to fire off an AK-47.
When in ‘Nam. And all that.
Truth is, this was a difficult and controversial war that saw too many losses. Crawling through just 25 metres of tunnels, little air and no quick escape, I was overcome with a strong respect for the resilience of mankind.
In I went …
A supply box. I wish I could have for my treasures.
Another thing I was sad to learn more about was the effects of Agent Orange and the impact thereof that is still being felt by the Vietnamese people. There are veterans and signs of slight disfigurement as reminders of this war wherever you look. On a calendar it was decades ago, but in truth the region still holds distinct and harsh reminders.
This photo of an American soldier taken during the Vietnam war sums it up – War is Hell – no matter which side you’re on.
For more on my time in Vietnam click on the link.